Comics Herstory: Barbara Brandon-Croft

bbc_4As the first African-American woman cartoonist to write a syndicated strip, Barbara Brandon-Croft is yet another trailblazer. Her father, Brumsic Brandon Jr., created the comic strip Luther, which was about a group of inner-city African-American children and had an underlying theme of the struggle for racial equality. Brandon-Croft also developed an interest in drawing and completed a fine arts degree at Syracuse University. She then went on to work for Elan and Essence magazines, and did some illustrations for The Crisis, a magazine published by the NAACP.

In 1989, Brandon-Croft began publishing Where I’m Coming From through The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s largest daily newspaper. Where I’m Coming From was nationally syndicated in 1991, and was published in more than sixty papers throughout the United States between 1989 and 2004. It ran for more than fifteen years before Brandon-Croft ended the strip in 2005 after a downturn in readership.

The comic itself featured a cast of about a dozen women, known as “the girls.” Each had a distinct personality; some were conscious of social issues while others were more conscious of men, but all contributed to the comic’s unique appearance and tone. One of Where I’m Coming From’s distinct characteristics is its lack of background. The characters appear against a blank panel.

The comic’s other distinct characteristic is the way in which the characters are drawn, as none have bodies. Rather than drawing an entire person, Brandon-Croft depicted each character with a head and a set of hands. She has said that it was a conscious decision to draw the characters as heads and hands only. Rather than define these characters by their bodies in a world where women are already defined by their bodies, each character is distinguishable by her distinct face and personality.

Where I’m Coming From is important for the insight it gives into being African-American in the United States, and for its social commentary. Though the comic wasn’t always politically focused, many of the points it made remain relevant today. It is also important because there is a distinct lack of African-American cartoonists in newspapers. Barbara Brandon-Croft is the only African-American woman to reach syndication, and to date there have only been a dozen African-American artists with syndicated comics.